Few options for affordable housing
Okotoks: No current solution until annexation
Wednesday, Jan 28, 2015 01:08 pm
A 376 square foot home may not seem like much to most people, but it’s been more than enough for Okotoks resident Tina Hayne for the last year and a half.
She lives in a garage that was converted into a small home in Okotoks’ north side as an affordable housing option that will lead her on her eventual retirement plan to live in an even smaller home.
“This particular bit is to help determine whether or not I can actually downsize that much,” she said.
Ultimately, she hopes to live in a converted trailer that will be less than 150 square feet, and the first step was to purge many her belongings and move into a smaller unit while she works on building her tiny house.
Her landlord was happy to oblige.
“She needed a place to live, she wanted to downsize. She didn’t really know if she could live in 150 square feet, so going down to 370 is kind of the first step. So it was her idea to turn the garage into a suite,” said landlord and close friend Bruce Piepgrass.
Hayne’s plans were set back after the Town ordered Piepgrass to close the backyard home on Dec. 18 because it was built without proper building permits.
Hayne is now left with few options with the lack of affordable housing options in Okotoks.
Piepgrass is appealing the decision, as he feels the suite has met all of the required conditions and he is willing to make any changes necessary to get the suite into compliance, such as covering the garage door with siding and registering it for a separate address. A hearing will likely be held next month with the Subdivision and Development Appeal Board next month to deal with the issue, after a Jan. 21 meeting was postponed due to a technicality.
While she’s trying to be optimistic, Hayne said she’s concerned that the suite may not be approved, and she can’t afford any of the other rental housing in town, which can easily run over $1,000 a month for a one bedroom unit. Even social housing options, managed by the Foothills Foundation, are full. The agency offers affordable housing in town to residents who meet the low to moderate income requirements, but currently has a lengthy waiting list.
“People need a place to live. There's no if, ands, or buts about that,” Hayne said. “There's nowhere else to turn. People want to come here to live and there’s nowhere to live and it's support workers that this town needs, and those workers need accommodations.”
Naydene Lewis, former town councillor and neighbour, wrote a letter in support of the garage turned home, and said the town needs to explore more affordable housing options for people in town.
“I believe that we absolutely need affordable housing, and what better way to do it than in current locations rather than broadening our footprint anymore than we need to?” she said. “I'm a firm believer of the cradle to grave concept and if that’s what we're going to preach in Okotoks we better be able to back it up with being able to live, not just survive for all residents in town.”
The Town has seen an increase in illegal secondary suites and was cracking down on 13 suites late last year. Mayor Bill Robertson said while secondary suites are an option for affordable housing, the Town has to make sure development is done legally to ensure residents’ safety.
“As soon as it’s an illegal suite then it's not inspected and not saying (this is the case), but many homeowners will cut corners in order to provide that secondary suite because they’re looking for a secondary source of income through their home,” he said. “So of course it's necessary to make sure they're legally done so they're as safe as possible.”
That being said, Robertson said affordable housing is definitely an issue in Okotoks, as the town is out of land for smaller and multifamily units.
“We have all kind of people, perhaps in the service industries in town that need an affordable place to live or businesses can't get those workers, but it's (about having) an overall quality of life for everybody in the community, not just those people with higher incomes,” Robertson said. “I believe it’s huge, for those members of our community who can’t afford the average price of housing in.”
In the long-term, Robertson said the Town is looking to open up more land to develop more affordable housing options once the annexation process is complete. However, that until then there’s no plan in place to deal with affordable housing.
“At this point I would say no, we're certainly encouraging any multifamily housing to be developed, but at this point we don't really have an interim strategy other than working to get the annexation done to get that land under development to provide more options for housing,” he said.
Once the land does become available, Robertson said he’ll be pushing for R-1St zoning in neighbourhoods which requires homes to be designed to accommodate a secondary suite whether they use it or not.
“I would certainly push to have some of the new areas in town deemed for secondary suites, they can just develop them from the onset,” he said.